You Don't Need All-Wheel Drive In The Snow

What you need is winter tires. And you might need more ground clearance than you get with a 2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross. Maybe. Kind of. Not really.

Yesterday there was a massive “BOMB CYCLONE” storm completely smothering the entire eastern half of the United States, which sounds very dramatic. In reality, it just meant that there was a foot of snow, and a ton of wind.


And that meant that it was a good day for winter driving.

All photos credit: Raphael Orlove/Jalopnik

In all seriousness, it was a terrible day for driving in general – especially if your car was ill-equipped, or you didn’t know what you were doing. We saw at least two cars, stuck, completely stationary in the middle of a highway, fruitlessly spinning their front wheels. The overwhelming verdict seemed to be that most cars were ill-equipped, or with people who didn’t know how to drive in snow.


But if your car has winter tires—as my 2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross does, with its Pirelli Sottozero 3s—it turns out you were alright. Winter tires aren’t just specifically designed for colder temperatures, they’re also specifically designed to help you grip in snow. Which means that when everyone else understeers into another parked car, or oversteers into a tree, or doesn’t get going at all, we were just fine.


Better than fine, really. It was fun. Especially when you got that warm, beautiful feeling from deep inside. You know the one. That smug superiority feeling, knowing your car is just beautifully driving on by, while everyone else curses the heavens in frustration.


Alright, so my car’s onboard computer was decidedly not happy. The traction control light was constantly firing, and the ABS system was whirring a bit, but we were moving. And with the traction control system off, and on certain streets with a wide berth, you could even start to get a feel for the finer points of rear-wheel-drive grip.

It wasn’t all joy, however. While the little Lexus was happy to play in the snow-covered streets that had already been plowed some hours earlier, wherever the snow had never been plowed, it was just too deep to move.


But do you really need all-wheel-drive for that? Do you really need an SUV for that dead end that isn’t plowed? No, you don’t. That road isn’t plowed for a reason. It’s because you shouldn’t go there. It’s bad.

You know what was good, though?


A rear-wheel-drive car with winter tires. That, my friends, was very good.

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About the author

Michael Ballaban

Deputy Editor, Jalopnik. 2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross.

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